This is important.
When we see motivated students, what we're seeing are human beings benefitting from the five key beliefs. On the flipside, when we see unmotivated or apathetic students, we're seeing the dark sides of these five key beliefs. Think of them as the five key fears.
These fears are:
- Anti-Credibility: I want my teacher to be good at his job, but he's not. He doesn't care about me, or he doesn't know how to teach me, or he has no sense of urgency about this lesson, this unit, this year of my life.
- Anti-Value: I wish the things I have to do in school — reading, writing, discussion, knowledge-building — mattered too my life, but it doesn't. I wish it wasn't boring, but it is — and boring is bad. I'd rather be watching TV or playing games or hanging out with friends.
- Anti-Belonging: I wish science or physical education or hard work or earnest argument was the kind of thing that people like me did, but it's not. People like me don't do stuff like that. My identity doesn't fit in this setting or in this work.
- Anti-Effort: I wish that the work of learning she's teaching me to put forth was going to pay off if I really try at it, but I don't think it will. When it comes to math, I'm stuck. I tried hard at the start of the semester, and look where I've ended up? No matter how hard I try, I won't get better. No matter how much I work, I can't improve.
- Anti-Efficacy: I wish I was going to succeed in this class / on this assignment / during this school year, but I'm not. I don't know how to speak well in front of my peers. I can't analyze poetry. I can't build models in science.
These thoughts stir in the hearts of our apathetic students. And perhaps the most fundamental insight to have in these situations is that apathy is a kind of pain. Human beings are not designed for apathy — they are designed for engagement, for progress, for development, for learning.
So really: at the core of apathy is pain. That student did not dream as a younger child about someday being apathetic.
Tomorrow, consider that: no human wants to be unmotivated and apathetic. Your students don't want to feel that the work is pointless, or that they're doomed to fail, or that they don't belong. Reflect on it throughout the day.
And, from this place of empathy, resolve again to do the work that matters most.
The good news is that these beliefs are malleable. The research is clear!
And so we work to affect them one unit, one lesson, one interaction at a time.
The Student Motivation Course is open now until March 20, 2020. Here's what we know from running the course with 1,000 plus people: it helps. Learn more and register here.
I would add a sixth: anti-classroom. I have several relatives who basically checked out mentally in high school. For several of them, the issue was that they had found something they liked to do in life, and were already doing it, and in a competition with school, that other thing won hands-down. Combine that with fair-to-middling academic talent (and in one case dyslexia), and school finished out of the running for them. They were spending their time doing these things: carpenter’s helper (later became a union ironworker and independent contractor); bicycle/motorcycle repair (now owns his own repair business); child care (went on to have six children); food service worker (now owns a catering business); drummer (is now a sound engineer); You get the picture. These folks did graduate from high school, but just barely. One, only because he needed to be a HS grad in order to get into an apprenticeship program.
I think that when we can learn what a student does in their non-school hours, especially if it is paid employment, and encourage it, we get much farther with them in keeping them in school.